An outraged Ian McKellen yesterday recalled his reaction at hearing Kennneth Branagh was making a film of Henry V back in the late 80s. “What?! How dare he? – was my reaction. That is Olivier’s territory! How dare this whippersnapper?!”
This turns out to be mock-outrage as McKellen soon softens by saying: “But of course once I saw it, I was in total awe and I thought: thank you Mr Branagh for having broken the spell of Olivier’s hold over Shakespeare on film. And if it hadn’t been for Branagh doing Henry V, I would never have dared trample over Olivier’s memory by doing Richard III.”
We’ll be able to compare all four filmed versions of the two plays when they return to the big screen as part of the BFI’s ambitious Shakespeare On Film season, which marks 400 years since the death of the bard.
McKellen will spearhead the BFI’s season of classics — and apparently also take bus tours around the London locations used in his excellent 1930s themed version of Richard III.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Branagh has been signed up as Film London’s patron for the anniversary, which will see a range of brand new productions being made. This will include an Anglo-Indian co-production called The Hungry, which is a modernised telling of Titus Andronicus, a pair of all-female produced short films, three animations and a BBC Arena documentary examining Shakespeare’s screen legacy.
Back at the BFI there’ll be screenings during April and May with new restorations of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, plus newly-digitised silent programme Play On! and also an exhibition of rarely seen related memorabilia. The British Council will take 18 of the best British films on tour to 110 countries including Shanghai, Cuba and Moscow, as well as a refugee camp in Iraq.